Academic journal article Jewish Film & New Media

Jewish Revenge: Haredi Action in the Zionist Sphere

Academic journal article Jewish Film & New Media

Jewish Revenge: Haredi Action in the Zionist Sphere

Article excerpt

In recent years Jewish Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) cinema has come into being. It emerged in the early part of the twenty-first century from the Haredi community in Israel as a particular form of minority cinema. Its corpus includes dozens of films that are made by and for Haredi viewers, and it is marked by strict gender segregation. Created for and watched predominantly in a self-segregated enclave on the margins of Israel's cinematic landscape, these films are produced outside the mainstream Israeli film industry and are rarely regarded as forming part of Israel's national cinema.

Thus far the Haredi films have gained modest critical attention, not least due to the novelty of this form of cinema and its secluded nature. Only a number of academic publications on the topic have appeared in Hebrew. Marlin Vinig's book, Haredi Cinema (2011), mainly charts the development of Haredi women's cinema. Vered Elimelech's 2009 work analyzes the representation of rabbis in Haredi films and the image of the Other in Haredi male cinema. Moran Banit's 2013 study examines models of masculinities in the work of the Haredi filmmaker Avi Grinberg.1 This article seeks to expand on these studies. We discuss Haredi cinema in the context of the relationship of the Haredi minority with the Israeli state and with the doctrine of Zionism.

We focus our analysis on the Haredi action films, and specifically on the popular film series Jewish Revenge (Hanekama Hayehudit, Yehuda Grovais, Israel, 2000-2010).2 These films address a specific target audience of Haredi young men. The Haredi appropriation of the cinematic action genre, we argue, is a poignant example of the way films, as potent sites of discursive enunciation, construct and reshape identities and social relations, in this case in the context of Israeli Haredi men. The notion of action is at the heart of the ideological split between secular Zionism and Haredi Judaism. The association of action with physical power, body spectacle, and masculinity, both within the Zionist narrative and the cinematic action genre, forms the main prism of our discussion.

The Alternative of Haredi Cinema

As a fundamentalist religious group that adheres to a strict code of Jewish law (.Halakha), Haredi society seeks to preserve its boundaries and maintain its autonomous way of life. In so doing, members of the community continuously negotiate-at times through the mediation of rabbinic authorities-various aspects of modern life regarding private and public matters as well as the wider, non-Haredi, public sphere. Cinema, a quintessentially modern medium, was historically rejected both as being a key representation of Western culture that imparted foreign values and for its intrinsic representational nature.3 The viewing of cinema was forbidden by Haredi authorities as early as the opening of the first cinema hall, Oracle, in Jerusalem in 1908.4 Rabbinic rulings that prohibit its consumption and warn of its sinful nature have marked the relationship of the Haredi leadership with the cinematic medium ever since. Successive advances in visual media and devices, such as television, video, and DVD players, were equally rejected for similar reasons.

Despite these prohibitions, the past decade has seen the emergence of a unique and contested form of Haredi cinema whose growing popularity evinces, if nothing else, the somewhat long-lasting fascination of many Haredim with the medium. Its development over the past decade has been marked by significant growth, gradual professionalization, and partial rabbinic approval.

Haredi cinema developed from within the community by self-trained individuals and in two parallel contexts: women's cinema that emerged from the Haredi education system and men's cinema that emerged from the IT and business worlds.5 Its development could be attributed perhaps, more than anything, to the emergence of a Haredi middle class that gradually acquired a taste for consumerism and entertainment. …

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